The Philippine government aims to acquire additional FA-50PH light combat aircraft/trainers from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced plans to acquire around 12 more jets during a symposium of the Philippine Air Force (PAF, Pilipinas Hukbong Himpapawid). Lorenzana stated that President Rodrigo Duterte wants to add to the Fighting Eagle fleet based on the aircraft’s performance in the campaign to liberate Marawi City from Islamist militant control last year. However, Lorenzana said that talks with South Korea over a new FA-50 purchase have not yet begun.
In March 2014, the Philippines signed a $417.95m contract for 12 FA-50PHs. The first of these took to the air on June 19, 2015 and the initial pair was delivered in December 2015. The next two aircraft arrived on December 1, 2016 and a further two on February 22 the following year. The remaining six Fighting Eagles were delivered at monthly intervals in pairs from March to May last year. They are operated by the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Basa AB, Pampanga.
Fighting Eagle at war
On May 23 last year Philippine military launched an offensive in the city of Marawi in the province of Lanao del Sur with the aim of capturing the leader of Abu Sayyaf, a group affiliated with so-called Islamic State (IS). The result was the longest urban battle in modern Philippine history. The PAF was engaged after two days of fighting on the ground, performing air strikes to expel around 30 remaining militants of the IS-inspired Maute jihadist group from three villages outside the city.
By the end of the first week of the campaign, the PAF had deployed all of its combat and close support aircraft types on bombing missions, with mixed success.
After an impromptu ceasefire during which civilians were evacuated, ground skirmishes and air strikes resumed on June 3, and FA-50s dropped bombs on the city centre. Two days later, FA-50s and AW109E helicopters were engaged in close support air strikes. Fighters returned to bomb Marawi again on the 9th, specifically targeting the three villages remaining under Maute control.
A ‘friendly fire’ incident killed two soldiers and injured 11 others on July 12. On this occasion, FA-50PHs attempted to drop four unguided 500lb (227kg) bombs on a high-rise target where around 80 Maute and other IS terrorists were holding defensive positions. One of the bombs fell short of the target by around 650ft (200m), hitting a building sheltering government troops. Following this incident, the entire FA-50PH fleet was grounded for investigation after performing almost 70 missions successfully over Marawi.
The FA-50s were engaged again by early August, launching air strikes to clear positions held by the Maute in Marawi. Many such positions were rigged with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). On August 23, Defender helicopters, OV-10 close support aircraft and FA-50s pounded the area around the grand mosque to flush out gunmen.
As of mid-October last year, FA-50s were continuing to fly over the city. According to the Philippine Army, by the 16th of that month, 822 insurgents, 162 military and police officers and 47 civilians had been killed. On October 23, after five months of fighting, defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that the battle against the terrorists in Marawi had finally been won.
See the January issue of AFM for more on the development of the Philippine Air Force’s offensive capabilities and how these were put to use in the campaign to liberate Marawi.